How do you pack a massive theatre for a resolutely niche contemporary dance piece? Try adding an icon of British pop music. Melanie Chisholm, aka Mec C, aka Sporty Spice, is the undoubted draw of ‘how did we get here?’. Always the Spice Girls’ strongest singer, she has already proved she has plenty more strings to her bow, publishing a bestselling autobiography and dabbling with musical theatre. Now, at the age of 49, she has returned to her dance roots, collaborating with fellow Merseysider Jules Cunningham, a veteran of the contemporary dance scene and a Sadler’s Wells New Wave associate.
There is nowhere to hide in ‘how did we get here?’: the audience sits on three sides of the stage and in the front stalls for an in-the-round experience (be warned: you have to queue for the undesignated seats on a first-come, first-served basis). And the costumes, designed by Stevie Stewart, are basically sleeveless body stockings that look as though they have been sprayed on to Chisholm, Cunningham and third performer Harry Alexander. But, clearly relishing the challenge, Chisholm holds her own with these two talented and experienced dancers; she can hit a lovely ballet line, has impressive stamina and is an immensely watchable stage presence.
Vague, rather angsty programme notes don’t really help you to mine any meaning from this hour-long piece. The movement at first is tentative, pensive and heavy with melancholy, set to Nina Simone as a glitterball casts fractured light across the theatre. The sense of isolation morphs into moments of confrontation as the music turns to electro-reverb and bleeps, and then moves towards collaboration, with plenty of embraces and tableaux of stacked limbs, the propulsion building as the intent solidifies.
Each dancer is given their solo moment: Chisholm is confident and controlled, while Alexander – who is rather sadly underused overall – is a beautiful sweep of long limbs. Cunningham is the stand-out, though; suddenly electrifying, with slicing, precise, urgent movement performed to Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’.
There are sections that drift with a lack of focus – and a nadir when Cunningham emerges with an electric guitar and twangs discordantly as Chisholm and Alexander perform a shuffling slow dance. You wonder at the fact that the programme credits include a dramaturg. But, although Spice Girls aficionados may be left scratching their heads, it’s undoubtedly another feather in Mel C’s cap.